Hello Kitty isn’t a cat?


Japan’s most beloved icon, Hello Kitty, is not a cat. Or is she? We don’t even know her nationality. Is she British or Japanese? Is she human? Or is she perhaps the daughter of a survivor of the Island of Dr. Moreau?

A recent report in the Los Angeles Times which quoted an anthropologist as saying she was told by Sanrio that one of Japan’s most beloved mascots, Hello Kitty, is not a feline (Felis catus) left fans reeling in shock.

Christine R. Yano, an anthropologist at the University of Hawaii and author of Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty’s Trek Across the Pacific, which was published last year by Duke University Press, told the Los Angeles Times, “…Hello Kitty is not a cat. She’s a cartoon character. She is a little girl. She is a friend. But she is not a cat. She’s never depicted on all fours. She walks and sits like a two-legged creature. She does have a pet cat of her own, however, and it’s called Charmmy Kitty.”

The revelation caused a wave of shock and disbelief—and ruined childhoods—throughout social media that has even captured the attention of Japanese national broadcaster, NHK.

“Hello Kitty is a character born in the motif of a cat, but is a 100% anthropomorphic girl. We welcome this understanding of Hello Kitty by people throughout the world,” said Sanrio when reached for comment by NHK.

Even Peanut’s character, Snoppy, took to Twitter to confirm that he was, in fact, a dog and not a little boy.

Yano also told the Los Angeles Times that Hello Kitty is British and was created during a time in which Japanese women were fascinated with British culture.

They loved the idea of Britain. It represented the quintessential idealized childhood, almost like a white picket fence. So the biography was created exactly for the tastes of that time,” said Yano.

Sanrio’s official biography of Hello Kitty also confirms her as being British. However, according to an article in the Atlantic Wire written by Jake Adelstein, Hello Kitty’s Guide to Japan in English and Japanese (ハローキティの英語で紹介する日本) written by Koji Kuwabara suggests differently. In the book, which explains Japanese culture, Hello Kitty is seen showing her American boyfriend, Dear Daniel around Japan and inviting him into her home, in which the floor is covered with tatami mats, and introducing him to her family, who all reside in Japan. In the book, Hello Kitty demonstrates such a wide knowledge of Japanese culture and customs that the reader can’t help but assume that she is, in fact, Japanese.

“That’s the kind of stuff the Chinese say when they pirate our national treasures and goods. It’s outrageous. And unforgivable,” said Tatsuya Nakajima, the leader of right-wing group Junshinkai when asked what he thought about the idea that Hello Kitty wasn’t Japanese.

Because Hello Kitty has pointed ears, whiskers, and a fluffy tail, it’s easy to understand why people would question the idea that she isn’t a cat. Japan Subculture Research Center staff lend their voices to the debate.

Angela Erika Kubo: I honestly don’t give a fuck. I honestly doubt that there is any sort of plastic surgery or genetic manipulation out there that can turn a little girl into a furry creature with no mouth. It’s no wonder Hello Kitty weighs three apples—she’s so severely malnourished since it looks like she’s unable to eat. Also, the fact that Hello Kitty owns a cat herself doesn’t mean anything. Humans keep monkeys as pets and genetically both species are remarkably similar.

Jake Adelstein: I believe that Hello Kitty is not a cat. She is a human being with cat DNA and represents a failed attempt by the Japanese government, the Ministry of Health & Welfare, to create a new breed of Japanese woman who would be silent, fecund, and give birth to litters of Japanese cat people, thus solving Japan’s declining birth rate and growing rat problem at the same time. If you’re familiar with the history of Japan’s biological warfare unit and how they all went to work for the Ministry of Health after “the reverse course” during the occupation—it’s all very clear. Technically, I would classify her as Homo catus.

“Karaoke Man”: An Ode For the Expat In Japan Reeling From Ennui

Inspired by the ennui of the expat who’s spent too many years in Japan and the Billy Joel classic “Piano Man” + a lot of insomnia.  If you can appreciate this, you’ve probably been in Japan way too long.

“Karaoke Man”

The expat blues can only be exorcised by singing this modified version of "Piano Man"
The expat blues can only be exorcised by singing this modified version of “Piano Man”

It’s nine o’clock on a Thursday
The regular crowd is all here
There’s an old man sitting next to me
Making love to his Asahi Super Dry Beer

He says, “Son can you sing me a memory
I’m not really sure it’s popular at bars
But it’s sad and it’s sweet
And I knew it complete
And I think it’s by the Southern All Stars”

Sing us a song you’re the Karaoke man
Sing us a song tonight
Well we’re all in the mood for a melody
And you’ve got us feeling alright

Now Taro at the bar is a friend of mine
He gets me my mizuwari for free
And he’s quick with a joke or to light up your smoke
But there’s someplace that he’d rather be

He says, “Akira, I believe this is killing me”
As a smile ran away from his face
“Well, I’m sure that I could be an AV star
If I could get out of this place”

Now Hiro is a real estate mangaka
Who never had time for a wife
And he’s talking with Moroni who’s still at Sony
And probably will be for life

And the hostess is practicing pouring green tea
As the businessmen get drunk real slow
Yes they’re sharing a drink they call loneliness
But it’s better than drinking Jinro

Sing us a song you’re the Karaoke man
Sing us a song that’s manic
Well we’re all in the mood for any thing
And at least this isn’t Gas Panic

It’s a pretty good crowd for a Thursday
And the manager gives me a nudge
‘Cause he knows that it’s me they’ve been coming to see
To forget about the boss they begrudge

And the Laser disc player sounds like a matsuri 
And the microphone smells like red wine
As they sip their beer and yell in my ear—
“Can you sing YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE?”

Sing us a song you’re the Karaoke man
Sing us a song you old dude 
Well we’re all in the mood for MY WAY
And you’ve got us feeling so goood

Scary Tales From Japan’s Marriage Graveyard: My Wife Divorced Me Over “Frozen”

In Japan a married women took “Let it Go a little too literally and allowed her husband’s lack of interest in the popular Disney movie Frozen to ice their six-year marriage. According to the popular web forum for unhappy married people Kikonsha no Hakaba・既婚者の墓場 (The Graveyard of The Married/The Marriage Graveyard), a man claimed that his wife wanted to divorce him because he didn’t care much for the movie when he finally gave in and saw it with her. 

On an on-line forum, "The Marriage Graveyard" a Japan man claims his wife divorced him or rather "let it go"  because he didn't appreciate the Disney film FROZEN.
On an on-line forum, “The Marriage Graveyard” a Japan man claims his wife divorced him or rather “let it go” because he didn’t appreciate the Disney film FROZEN.

“When I asked my wife who would go to the cinema many times why should found it so interesting, she told me that I was defective as a person because I didn’t understand how good this work is…. And on top of that, she asked for a divorce and stormed out of the house,” he wrote.”By the way, do you think that it’s possible in this world to say that you want a divorce for this reason. This isn’t limited to just movies but also a discrepancy in hobbies)?”

For the husband, the declaration of divorce was a cold blow. Responders to his post were baffled, because the husband claimed to have a decent salary, no debts, and no hidden children. He also worked in a department in his company that is made up of men, which meant that he had no lovely female coworkers to tempt him into straying from his wife. One commenter brought up the possibility of his wife having a male “friend” and said, “If you make that much money hire a detective!”

Eventually, the man decided to hire someone in a detective agency to follow his wife and watching over his in-laws’ house.

There’s no way to verify this story, but it certainly has made rounds on the Internet.  It’s a little hard to believe this story, but people have divorced for silly reasons. During the Bubble Years, a term called “Narita Rikon・成田離婚 (Narita Divorce)” came into being because some newlywed couples would divorce as soon as they would come back to Japan, usually after a disastrous honeymoon.

A Disney movie shouldn’t be the main reason to “flake” out on a marriage. The movie incident was likely the icing on the cake of a multitude of problems that the wife might have found in the marriage. Check out this video to get a good idea of what their marriage must have been like. Guess who is which character.

The poster never discusses their sex life or whether one of them was frigid in bed. But judging by statistics, there’s a 50% chance it was a sexless marriage. Maybe she was unhappy with his “icicle” because he had problems getting it “stiff” and wanted to meet a real (snow) man. Anyhow, if that is the reason, it doesn’t look like this  frozen relationship will thaw anytime soon. It too bad he couldn’t some way to make her warm up. Maybe he could have taken her to karaoke and serenaded her with songs from the movie to prove his love? And if that didn’t work, he could always have sang her, Cold As Ice and wowed her with his coolness.

The story may be as fictional as the movie (but we couldn’t help but crack a few puns!). But it does hit on a universal truth about marriage in Japan: they are often stone cold dead long before one party asks for divorce.

No Spitting On The Train…Staff or Conductor. Japan Commuter Etiquette #1


Violence against station staff is a crime–and JR reportedly will be releasing a new series of posters this year to remind passengers to show a little curtesy to railway staff–even if the train is 15 minutes late.

No Spitting poster

This isn’t the first time that JR has used posters to get a message across. In 2011, JR launched one of their biggest campaigns with slogans such as “It’s a crime to spit on the station staff.” The poster shows a male wearing an orange shirt and jacket, who just missed the train by a few seconds, spitting at a train conductor.

There’s no knowing whether they had an effect on behavior from passengers, but they did generate snickers.

The latest “stop the violence” poster is here. It’s not quite as memorable as the others before. And clearly “violence” (暴力)doesn’t have a Pasmo card or it would be whisking on past the gates.

There is a price for violence.
There is a price for violence.

On a serious note, violence against train staff is a problem, and it is true that some passengers spit on or lash out at staff. However, whether the new posters get anyone’s attention remains to be seen. Violence against train staff is no laughing matter and these new posters, reflecting that spirit, aren’t very funny.

A Benediction For The Bereaved

January is a cold month. I have two friends, one of them close, who lost a parent last month. It made me think a little about the cycle of life and death.
Last February, a very unusual yakuza boss, known as the Buddha of the Underworld, who I sort of admired, passed away. On the 10th, it will be the one year anniversary of his death, and a time to cease mourning.
The process of grieving is a long one. Often we’re encouraged in modern society to “get over it.” Or take an anti-depressant.
So what is the proper way to deal with death?
I’ve found it’s to try and bring a little happiness to the living. It doesn’t mean we forget those who died; it just means we try and be a little kinder in their honor.
So here is an old benediction for those lost and for those who survived.
They’re not my words.
The Buddhist philosopher Shanti Devi said them many centuries ago.
Maybe, in times of tragedy, the best we can do is look after those who remain.
The benedictions below are also the vows of a Bosatsu 菩薩, a Buddha who postpones entering Nirvana to help the world. They are, at least in spirit, the vows of a Buddhist priest in Soto Zen.
I’m too much of an arrogant jerk to uphold them, but I keep them in mind now and then.
The sentiment may be maudlin, the wish is heartfelt.
May all beings everywhere
Plagued by sufferings of body and mind
Obtain an ocean of happiness and joy
By virtue of my merits.
May no living creature suffer,
Commit evil or ever fall ill.
May no one be afraid or belittled,
With a mind weighed down by depression.
May the blind see forms,
And the deaf hear sounds.
May those whose bodies are worn with toil
Be restored on finding repose.May the naked find clothing,
The hungry find food.
May the thirsty find water
And delicious drinks.May the poor find wealth,
Those weak with sorrow find joy.
May the forlorn find hope,
Constant happiness and prosperity.

May all who are ill or injured
Quickly be freed from their ailments.
Whatever diseases there are in the world,
May these never occur again.

May the frightened cease to be afraid
And those bound be freed.
May the powerless find power
And may people think of benefiting each other.

For as long as space endures
And as long as living beings remain,
Until then may I too abide
To dispel the misery of the world.